By Jacques van der Westhuyzen for iol.co.za
There are a multitude of words that can be used to describe the diabolical performance by the Lions at Newlands on Saturday. Saying it wasn’t a disgrace would be a lie.
When Eugene Eloff succeeded Frans Ludeke at the helm, he promised that three years later – which is now – the Lions would be a force in the Super 14 competition. He said there was a plan and that in time the team would be as competitive as any other local side. The problem with the current Lions team is that even if Eloff had five or 10 years to build a team, they would still be the average side we have seen in the last three years.
There are simply no signs of progress or improvement. Week after week it’s a struggle just to be competitive.
The dilemma facing the union – and Eloff – is that they have invested in certain players who will always only be good Currie Cup players, but will never take the next step of being good enough to play rugby at an international level.
And the Super 14 competition is international rugby.
If one looks at the Crusaders, Brumbies and Blues – the three Super rugby teams who have achieved the most success since the inception of the competition – they have all had stars in their teams… players who feature regularly for the national Test team. Closer to home, the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers have enjoyed a lot of success because they have those players who are good enough to play on the international stage.
It is no surprise the Bulls and Sharks are currently South Africa’s form teams. They have an abundance of men with flair, discipline and skill and that so-called game-breaking ability.
Too many Lions players think they’re good enough to play in the Super 14, but they’re not. Many of them should be playing Vodacom Cup rugby, while other so-called stars in the team are well past their expiry date. Only a handful, led by Jaque Fourie, are the complete package which is needed to succeed at this level of the game.
But the players should not be blamed for the Lions’ woes in recent years. The Golden Lions Rugby Union, together with the coaching staff, are to blame.
At the beginning of 2009 when a group of former stars at the Lions and at other franchises came knocking at the union’s door wanting to play top-flight rugby again, the media was informed that it was because they “could see things are happening at the union”. What nonsense. Those players teamed up with the Lions because they knew they would not get a look-in at any other franchise in the country.
If things continue as they are, perhaps it is time to give the eastern Cape franchise an opportunity. Some will argue the Lions would be a far stronger team had the likes of Brian Mujati, Schalk Brits, Wikus van Heerden, Jean Deysel, Rory Kockott, Ricky Januarie, Gcobani Bobo, Jaco Pretorius, Bryan Habana, Conrad Jantjes, etc not left the union in the last number of years. But one should rather ask, why did these players – all Lions at one stage – opt to go elsewhere? Perhaps they knew the Lions were going nowhere slowly.